Its good to keep in touch with that childhood joy, advises the smiling Northport resident who creates evocative, handsome shadow boxes of painted silk and cotton fabric that is painstakingly cut and glued. I loved making art as a kid and I still do.
Paying homage to collage, Bickels works draw their inspiration from the nature that surrounds her in Leelanau County and most of her works include images of animals rabbits, fish, birds, and most noticeably, bears. In fact, her haunting image of a Juggling Bear has become synonymous with her work, appearing in a variety of her shadow boxes.
Theres something about the shape of bears, she says. Ive been doing the Juggling Bear since 1992. Its sort of a logo for me now. To me, it reflects that you should handle parts of life in balance and joyfully.
Bickels shadow boxes begin simply with white silk that is screen printed with splashes of color. Then she cuts and glues the silk into images as simple and subtle as bears flying kites or ponies romping on a beach. The scenes may seem other-worldly, yet are rooted in the familiar. Take a closer look and youll see sturdy stitching linking a stone to the beach or fixing the moon in the sky.
I like adding detail, she says. I like to start with a strong image first, then see something else and something else, adding details.
Bickel grew up near the shores of Lake Michigan in Muskegon and realized early on that art would play a major role in her life. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a fine arts degree in painting, she earned her MFA in fibers from the Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Before Bickel and her husband Steve Wetherbee moved to Northport in 1991, she taught art classes at Lansing Community College, The Center for Creative Studies, and Wayne State University. A year later, she opened Zoon Gallery (later Char Bickel Gallery) which highlighted her works in Northport for a decade before closing in 2002.
With an interest in young artists, Bickel has also taught in both Northport and Suttons Bay public schools.
She creates her shadow boxes in a studio at her circa-1890 white farmhouse atop a hill. Its filled with all varieties of her creativity, plus the works of many of her friends and contemporary artists. On display are pieces by Angela Saxon, Sue Brightheart, Steve Toornman, Meredith Krell, Charla Khanna, Chris Roberts-Antieau, Doug Racich, Melanie Steffes and others.
Over the years, Bickels pieces have been displayed in dozens of galleries nationwide and the focus of several solo exhibitions, including at the Slusser Gallery at the U-M and the Ann Arbor Art Association. Many private and corporate collections include her creative works. Locally, shes been featured at Kejaras Bridge in Lake Leelanau and Parallel Arts in Northport.
On June 24, shell be the featured artist for the annual Suttons Bay Artwalk.
Fans of Bickels work will want to be aware of her new series of 10x10-inch shadow boxes that shell be displaying this summer. Each will focus on a single nature image usually a fish, bird, rabbit, frog, horse, bear or other creature.
Shes also been busy collecting sand samples from a variety of northern Michigan beaches and plans to include tiny bottles of different sands in upcoming works.
Art is food for the soul, explains Bickel. When you contemplate art, you mirror the artists experience; you are in touch with the universal creative imagination that breathed life into the picture. The animals and mysterious ladies who visit my pictures have also visited my dreams. They are wise, shy presences whom I try to depict in a respectful, poetic way, using a satisfying yin/yang combination of collage and painting.
That poetic chord resonates with Sue Ann Round, owner of the Michigan Artists Gallery where 40 to 50 of Bickels works are always on display.
I would definitely say shes a poet, offers Round. Its very common for her to write a little something on the back of a piece that often brings someone to tears.